Liz Truss

Liz Truss's resignation sets stage for Rishi Sunak's rise to UK's top post

Just 45 days ago the Indian-origin, former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak lost the election to become the United Kingdom’s prime minister, but with the resignation of Liz Truss from the leadership of the Conservative Party, Sunak has got an opportunity to have a second crack at the top job.

Truss resigned on Thursday afternoon going down in history as the shortest serving prime minister of Britain after a tumultuous term that saw, as one of the memes about her going viral said, “Queen Elizabeth II being buried, the pound being buried and the Conservative Party being buried”.

Within an hour of her resignation, Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, announced that election for the Party leader would be completed in the next week and a new leader would be in place by 28 October. The 1922 Committee, formerly known as the Conservative Private Members’ Committee, is the parliamentary group of the Conservative party in the House of Commons and which is responsible for holding elections for the leadership.

Tumultuous time

The 47-year-old Truss succeeded Boris Johnson as prime minister, taking up office on 6 September. The gruelling and divisive leadership battle saw Sunak beating her in all five rounds of voting by Tory MPs, but in the decisive members’ ballot the positions were reversed with Truss polling 81,326 votes against his 60,399.

Two days after Truss became prime minister, Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96, plunging the nation into a period of mourning and normal politics suspended for about two weeks.

On 23 September, the seeds of Truss’s political demise were sown when the then Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng presented his mini-budget.

Also read: Indian origin UK Minister Suella Braverman resigns as Home Secretary

The £45 billion worth of tax cuts promised in the budget, funded by borrowing, spooked the financial markets and prompted a sharp fall in the Pound Sterling. The Bank of England had to step in and eventually Truss was forced to scrap plans to cut the top rate of income tax. By the last week of her premiership Truss was forced to junk most of the rest of the mini-budget and her overall economic agenda as it proved to be on a collision course with the country’s economic reality. In order to save her skin, Truss threw Kwarteng, whom she had called a ‘close friend’, under the bus and sacked him as Chancellor.

From then on, Truss’s authority and grip on the parliamentary party disintegrated by the hour and increasing numbers of Tory MPs were calling for her to go. She faced the most humiliating Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (19 Oct) in the House of Commons where she became the butt of all the jokes. Answering calls for her to go from the Opposition benches she had replied she was “a fighter, not a quitter”.

Braverman’s parting shot

However, the hammer blow to Truss’s faltering premiership finally came from the Indian-origin Suella Braverman who resigned from her post as Home Secretary later on Wednesday after a “fiery” 90-minute meeting with the Prime Minister the previous evening. Ostensibly, Braverman was forced to resign after being accused of breaching the ministerial code for accidentally sending official documents to another MP from her personal email. However it was her differences with Truss over liberalisation of immigration that really lit the fuse.

Braverman, former Attorney General and an important figure on the Right of the Conservative Party, was told by Truss and her new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to soften her stance on bringing down immigration as that was the only way to hit growth targets. However just two weeks earlier Braverman had told Tories at the annual Party Conference that she was committed to the Conservative 2019 manifesto promise to bring down immigration into the UK.

Also read: Waning power of Liz Truss gives rise to political plots, and jokes

There had been a flashpoint between the Prime Minister and her Home Secretary over Braverman’s refusal to accept an ‘open border migration policy’ with India which would give more visas to students, professionals and businessmen and was delaying efforts to secure a trade deal between the two countries. Braverman had called Indians the largest group of visa ‘overstayers’. She was also resisting proposals to increase the cap on foreign seasonal agricultural workers from 40,000 to 60,000.

In her explosive resignation letter, Braverman launched an indirect attack on Truss’s integrity. “The business of government relies upon people accepting responsibility for their mistakes. Pretending we haven’t made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can’t see we have made them and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics. I have made a mistake; I accept responsibility; I resign” wrote Braverman.

By the end of Wednesday more than a dozen Conservative MPs had called for Truss’s resignation.

Towards quick replacement

Late Thursday evening, Brady announced that candidates will need the backing of at least 100 Tory MPs and nominations will close on Monday afternoon. With a threshold of 100 nominations, a maximum of three candidates can stand. This is geared towards narrowing the field as quickly as possible.

The new rules have been drawn up in the hope of MPs picking a winner without needing a final vote among party members like last time. However if there are two candidates then there will be an online vote by the around one lakh eighty thousand Tory members to decide on the winner.

Also read: Bookie odds favour Sunak return as Truss struggles to save sinking ship

Within moments of Truss’s resignation, the race to succeed her began. The possible contenders are Sunak, Braverman, Penny Mordaunt, Leader of the House of Commons, Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary and Kemi Badenoch, International Trade Secretary. There are also rumours that Boris Johnson may also throw his hat in the ring to get his old job back and is said to be returning to the UK from his family holiday in the Dominican Republic. At the time of writing none of the MPs had officially confirmed their candidature.

Bookmakers wasted no time either and betting odds have Sunak as the favourite with a 50% chance of winning with Mordaunt coming in second at 31% and Johnson third with 18%. However among Tory MPs, Sunak has strong support which was seen in the contest last time, however there are plenty of Johnson supporters who do not trust him and have not forgiven him for bringing him down. Truss loyalists will also not support him this time and he is also not particularly popular among the Right of the Conservative Party.

Mordaunt, who had come in third in the leadership contest last time, is more acceptable to those MPs both on the Right and the Centre and therefore may emerge as a unity candidate. And then of course there is the possibility of Johnson coming back – after all he had ended his resignation speech in July with ‘Hasta la Vista, baby!’

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